Dr. Brian Goode is a Research Scientist at the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech, formerly the Biocomplexity Institute. Brian received his B.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. He was awarded an Office of Naval Research assistantship to complete his doctoral work. Afterwards, Brian went on a working holiday visa to Australia where he was a Field Engineer for Infrastructure Management Group, a bartender in Port Douglas, Queensland, and started freelance web developing while traveling. He then became an English Teacher in Thailand, and a Logistics Engineer at JB Hunt Transport Services, Inc. before returning to Virginia Tech to accept a postdoctoral fellowship. In 2016, Brian transitioned into his current position as a Research Scientist at Virginia Tech, and in 2017, he was awarded an Innovation Award from the Fragile Families Challenge held at Princeton University. In our interview, Brian will tell us more about his life and research.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:25)
Lately, Brian has been spending his weekends with his wife repairing and preparing their sailboat. He learned how to sail during graduate school, and he is excited to be nearly ready to set sail in his own sailboat.
The Scientific Side (3:46)
Brian’s background is in engineering, and his current research aims to understand how data-driven and theoretical models can be applied to the real world. For example, in one project, he is working to predict outcomes for people and their families using data from their first nine years of life. Their goal is to make the best models they can, identify the considerations needed to apply these models to reality, and then determine how their models can be used to help craft interventions and policies.
A Dose of Motivation (5:31)
For Brian, inspiration comes from a variety of sources and research fields. He is particularly inspired by the work of Bruce J. West, an accomplished physicist and mathematician.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (8:19)
During his childhood, Brian loved animals and was convinced he wanted to be a veterinarian. When he was 13 years old, Brian wanted to get firsthand experience working in a veterinary hospital, so he rode his bicycle over to the local veterinary hospital and inquired about volunteer opportunities. Initially the veterinarian turned Brian down, saying that he was too young to work as a volunteer. However, Brian persisted. He went home, put together a formal resume, mailed it to the veterinary hospital, and waited. A few days later, Brian got a call inviting him back to the veterinary hospital. After a short bicycle ride and a conversation with the team there, Brian was officially approved to be a volunteer. He enjoyed volunteering at the veterinary hospital throughout middle school and high school, but Brian’s cat allergies ultimately deterred him from pursuing a career as a veterinarian. Around the same time, Brian was spending his free time visiting the local junk yard to collect car parts to fix up an old car. Based on his interest in cars and how they worked, he decided to explore mechanical engineering. Over the years, his research interests shifted from cars to smart materials, acoustics, modeling, and control theory. Once he finished graduate school, Brian wanted time to explore other areas before settling down in a regular job. He applied for a working holiday visa and bought a one-way ticket to Australia. After a few years abroad and a bicycle trip across the U.S., Brian decided to return to academia to study social and behavioral systems.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (16:56)
The biggest challenge that Brian has faced is finding the right balance of pursuing new ideas and maintaining a solid funding base for day-to-day work. There are so many exciting ideas to be explored in the world, but it’s also important to have a steady stream of funding to support your work. In one case, he was working on an interesting analytical problem related to finding the surface area of a hypersphere with an inscribed hypercube. He wanted to pursue a solution because this problem was relevant for comparing and relating two different types of error which occur in modeling. This project went on in the background over the course of a full year, but Brian made sure to try to take some time each day to make progress on it.
A Shining Success! (19:42)
One of the most amazing things about working in science is that it is part of Brian’s job to read interesting articles that make him think about things differently. There is a continuous evolution of thought that he gets to engage in on a regular basis. It is fun to have the opportunity to see the world differently through learning about the work that other scientists are doing. One example was when Brian learned about a mathematical tool called fractional calculus. It is a more obscure area of mathematics, but it can have helpful applications in the work that Brian does.
Book Recommendations (20:32)
Complex Webs: Anticipating the Improbable by Bruce J. West, East Is a Big Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat Atoll by Thomas Gladwin.
Most Treasured Travel (22:31)
Recently, Brian went on a trip to nearby Washington D.C. to attend a complex systems and policy workshop. During this workshop, a small group of about 30 people met over the course of two and a half days to talk about the topic of emergent phenomena and behavior. It was awesome to get perspectives and insights from people from a wide variety of different research fields on a topic in which Brian has been particularly interested. Even though it is not very far away, it was fun to visit Washington D.C. and see the cherry blossoms in bloom as well.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (24:27)
When he was in graduate school, Brian and his cohort would get together at least once each month to cook together. The type of food varied each month, depending on who was hosting the gathering, but it was fun to get the group together and relax. A lot of the concepts in the work they do seem really distant and abstract, but they are trying to develop theories and models to bring these concepts closer and make them more concrete. In the process, it can be really frustrating to try to reach and manipulate these concepts and ideas. Having a group of people who are working in the same area and experiencing similar problems is really great, and it was fun to spend time hanging out and talking to them. In Brian’s group now, they regularly meet over coffee each morning when everyone is in town to talk about both life and science.
Advice For Us All (30:01)
Whatever path you choose in life, be sure to evaluate the joy you find in it. Seek out the joy in your work, even if it is riskier to follow the opportunities that may bring you joy. It will make you happier, and it will show in the quality of your work.
Brian’s research currently focuses on model design, error, and use in the context of complex systems with a social component. He finds this type of work exciting, because it lies at the nexus of research and application while taking a holistic approach. He believes this research cannot be done in a vacuum or through the lens of a single discipline, so he enjoys working as part of a small team focused on trans-disciplinary research. When not at the office, Brian and his wife work together to repair a sailboat with a goal to one day complete long passages.